Nehemiah – Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem
Key Verse: Chapter 2:18
“Then told I them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the King’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened my hands for this good work”
The history contained in Nehemiah continues the story of the resettlement of the children of Israel Judea after their long years in captivity. The story contained in Nehemiah serves to remind us that every generation of God’s people is called to build upon what a previous generation has established. The work is never completed yet progress can always be made. Without the leadership which Zerubbabel and Ezra had displayed Nehemiah would have had no work to do. On the other hand Zerubbabel and Ezra while they achieved much were not suited to a large scale building project. They watched the rubble which lay around Jerusalem little knowing that God was preparing a man with the vision and the expertise for this very task.
On face value the author of Nehemiah appears to be the man whose name is the title. Throughout the book Nehemiah’s words are in the first person which certainly indicates that he himself was the author. It is also true that the work bears some resemblance to Ezra and is certainly a continuation.
The phrase “hand of God” appears again in Nehemiah (2:8, 18), this being a favourite of Ezra. As Ezra was the spiritual leader of this generation and as he was the most gifted scribe of this era it is inconceivable that he did not play some role in formulating Nehemiah’s work. It is very likely that Nehemiah’s personal diary or journal was the basis of this book but that Ezra played a role in compiling the volume. I take the view, however, that whatever Ezra’s influence Nehemiah completed the work because Ezra was almost certainly dead by the time we arrive at chapter 13. I take this view because Ezra would not have permitted the terrible apostasy which Nehemiah discovered in that chapter.
Nehemiah emerges as a civil rather than a spiritual leader. At this stage the people had a spiritual leader, in Ezra, but Nehemiah’s task involved more practical matters. Nevertheless in civil matters he acted with a sense of spiritual convictions. This is particularly apparent in chapter 13. This remains necessary in civil leaders today.
Nehemiah was a Jew of some influence in royal court of Artaxerxes. He lived in the palace and was the king’s cup-bearer, a position of great trust. He chose to leave career behind, however, to serve his people in Judea. He did so because his heart was moved at the report in chapter 1 of the walls of Jerusalem being in such disarray. Having been granted leave by King to go and help his people Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem approximately 90 years after the first wave of immigrants.
He found the people and city in a poor and a lamentable state. Not only were the gates and walls in ruins but there were houses not yet rebuilt (7:4). Nevertheless he was successful in mobilising the population to seize their responsibility and repair the Lord’s inheritance. Throughout the building process he was opposed by a local population which feared the emergence of a strong Jewish people. At first Sanballet and Tobiah mocked (2:19, 4:2-3) but as the work continued they grew more sinister (4:11). They even attempted to discredit Nehemiah and planted a spy to give him poor advice (chapter 6). In the teeth of this onslaught Nehemiah was courageous and strong and the people drew from his resolve. They built and they guarded being ever ready for war until the work was complete.
It is reckoned that Nehemiah spent approximately 12 years in Jerusalem because he returned to the king (13:6). On hearing of compromise with the enemies of the people in Jerusalem he returned once again and put matters right in relation to the temple, the Levites, the Sabbath and intermarriage with the heathen.
Ezra’s major contribution in the days of Nehemiah concerned the renewal of the covenant which saw the people swept into a new period of spiritual revival. In one solemn day the law was read and expounded by Ezra and his assistants. The sins of the people were confessed and prayer was offered. The Princes, the Levities and the Priests then signed their names to a covenant promising on behalf of the people that they would follow the terms of the law. What was truly significant was the first to step forward and seal this covenant, Nehemiah (10:1) – a civil leader with true convictions.
While Nehemiah succeeded in rebuilding walls Ezra’s work involved building up the people spiritually. It is a bigger task to build up the church in spirit that it is is to erect buildings. We need our buildings to be erected and maintained to the glory of God but there ever remains a need for the work of grace to be strengthened in our lives.
1: Rebuilding the Walls Chapters 1 – 7
a News about Jerusalem; Chapter 1:1-3
b Prayer for Jerusalem; Chapter 1:4-11
c Despatched to Jerusalem; Chapter 2:1-11
d Survey of Jerusalem; Chapter 2:12-16
e Purpose in Jerusalem; Chapter 2:17-20
f Workers in Jerusalem; Chapter 3
g Enemies in Jerusalem; Chapter 4
h Discord in Jerusalem; Chapter 5
I Completion of Jerusalem; Chapter 6
J Census in Jerusalem; Chapter 7
2: Renewing the Covenant; Chapters 8-12
a Ministry in Jerusalem; Chapter 8:1-13
b Obedience in Jerusalem; Chapter 8:14-18
c Prayer in Jerusalem; Chapter 9
d Re-dedication in Jerusalem; Chapter 10
e Roles in Jerusalem; Chapter 11
f Priests in Jerusalem; Chapter 12:1-26
g Dedication of Jerusalem; Chapter 12:27-47
3: Nehemiah’s Return; Chapter 13
a Cleansing of Jerusalem; Chapter 13:1-9
b Levites in Jerusalem; Chapter 13:10-14
c Sabbath in Jerusalem; Chapter 13:15-22
d Intermarriage in Jerusalem; Chapter 13:23-31
When Nehemiah returned the second time and discovered most of his good work had been undone and the people were slipping away from the faith of their fathers. He was learning the bitter lesson that every great work of God is quickly eroded by the sin of man. At this period of his life he has a special prayer, “Remember me” (13:14, 22, 31). In seasons of discouragement we must ever seek the Lord that he would remember us as we re-learn our need of his grace and the blessings that flow therefrom.